Preview: Call of Duty 4 Multiplayer Beta Impressions

Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare

Earlier this week, I was privileged to receive a top-secret enlistment into a “Trusted Friends and Family” phase of the Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare Xbox 360 Multiplayer Beta granting select members of the press an early sneak peek at the action in advance of Monday’s public launch of the beta. I actually received my token Tuesday morning, but due to some download issues that arose I wasn’t able to get in and start playing until Thursday evening, which was an excruciating wait but well worth it in the end. Now with a few nights of play under my belt, I figured I’d report in with my beta impressions to let you know what you’re in for when it officially goes live tomorrow afternoon.

Upon logging in for the first time, Call of Duty 4’s multiplayer setup looks like any other. After customizing a control scheme to fit your style from the main menu, it’s then time to connect to the Xbox Live game menu where you can start a search for a match, invite friends to your party, create a custom class (after reaching a certain rank), or head off to the Barracks to check the leaderboards, set clan tags and view your personal stats and progression with the various challenges that eventually become available.

Mode types are standard FPS material — Free-for-all (deathmatch), Team Deathmatch, Domination (capture and hold flags points around the map for points) and Search and Destroy (one team sets a bomb and defends it while the other team attempts to attack and defuse the bomb) — as are the default class choices, such as Assault, Demolitions, Heavy Gunner, Sniper and Spec Ops.

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Only three maps are available in the beta, but each is well balanced and open to a variety of play styles and strategies. Vacant is probably my favorite so far, taking place in and around an abandoned Russian office building packed with frantic, hair-trigger action as you stalk through the almost labyrinthine layout of rooms and hallways not knowing when or where an opponent will cross your path. Crash, a deserted Middle-Eastern town set around a downed helicopter, is an excellent map too, with plenty of buildings, rooftops and alleyways presenting numerous fronts for heated firefights and potential ambush points. And finally there is Overgrown, a large Russian rural area containing a balanced mix of dilapidated buildings and open fields to shoot it out in – snipers in their ghillie suits are especially dangerous hiding in the thick vegetation located around the map.

In terms of gameplay, Call of Duty 4 isn’t reinventing the FPS genre by any means, but honestly it doesn’t matter because the gunplay has such a tactile feel to it that is too satisfying to resist – it has that magical Infinity Ward touch to it that made Call of Duty 2 such a hit and was so blatantly missing from the Treyarch-developed Call of Duty 3. There’s a certain intensity and atmosphere to the action that grabs you by the balls and simply doesn’t let go. The controls are dead on point too, so keeping up with the fast pacing is fluid and intuitive, as it should be.

Beyond anything else, though, the game’s incredible sense of progression is what has hooked me the most. During play you earn experience points for kills and performing other actions (kill streaks lead to certain benefits too by the away, such as the ability to call in air strikes and gain radar superiority for a short time), and by gaining experience you’ll gradually rise in rank and gain access to new modes, options and weapons at regular intervals (the level cap is currently set for 11, but that number will be raised as the beta carries on).

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Hitting level four is the first major milestone, as that is when you are first permitted to create your own custom class. In personalizing a class, you get to choose a primary weapon, a side arm, a special grenade and three perks that grant special abilities during combat, like increased health, faster reloading, increased bullet damage, and deeper bullet penetration to shoot opponents through walls, as but a few examples. Perks are CoD 4’s most talked about new multiplayer feature, and for good reason. There are so many combinations to choose from that you never know what to expect from the other combatants, making it necessary to study your opponents’ strategies and adapt yours on the fly to counter.

Another ranking milestone of great importance is level six, at which point Challenges become unlocked. In a nut shell, challenges are skill-based objectives to aim for throughout the course of play. At this early juncture, challenges mainly consist of getting a certain number of kills or headshots with different weapons (though there are a ton more to unlock past the level 11 cap), and by completing these challenges you’ll acquire experience bonuses and weapons mods (sights, grips, camouflage, etc.) to further enhance your arsenal.

As blissfully as Call of Duty 4 plays, it looks equally as jaw-dropping, as I’m sure you already know from ogling all of the screenshots and gameplay footage that’s been released so far. The textures, lighting, particle and explosion effects, physics, gun models and everything else in the game world are downright stunning to behold, but even more impressive for a game in its beta phase, the framerate runs at a steady 60fps clip without a single stutter or blip in sight (at least I haven’t seen any).

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Even in beta, Call of Duty 4’s multiplayer is already far and away the best I’ve experienced so far this generation. It looks gorgeous, runs smoothly, controls like a dream, features excellent maps, modes and class options, delivers visceral, adrenaline-pumping action and is so phenomenally rewarding that it’s damn near impossible to stop playing once you’ve started – I don’t have even a single complaint or concern. The only thing left to see now is how the single-player side of the game shapes up, because as much as I’m loving the multiplayer, the solo campaign is still going to be the most important part for me. After playing the beta, though, there’s no reason to think it won’t be amazing too.

About the Author

Matt Litten is the full-time editor and owner of VGBlogger.com. He is responsible for maintaining the day to day operation of the site, editing all staff content before it is published, and contributing regular news, reviews, previews and other articles. Matt landed his first gig in the video game review business writing for the now-defunct website BonusStage.com. After the sad and untimely close of BonusStage, the former staff went on to found VGBlogger.com. After a short stint as US Site Manager for AceGamez, Matt assumed full ownership over VGBlogger, and to this day he is dedicated to making it one of the top video game blogs in all the blogosphere. Matt is a fair-minded reviewer and lover of games of all platforms and types, big or small, hyped or niche, big-budget or indie. But that doesn't mean he will let poor games slide without a good thrashing when necessary!